Brendan O’Rourke must have liked helping customers over the phone for NTN Buzztime and planned to return to his job after his attack. He phoned his boss every day for a week to explain that he was sick with strep throat. But he was actually checking out elementary schools in Carlsbad, looking for the one easiest to invade and to get away from.
O’Rourke rejected Jefferson Elementary. The fences were too high and the adjoining streets too traffic-clogged for a fast getaway, and he noted the adult male crossing guard. O’Rourke also considered Poinsettia Elementary. His car, a light-colored Crown Victoria, was seen there one day before the shooting.
He selected Kelly Elementary. It was midday on October 8, 2010, when O’Rourke went over the chain-link fence with a loaded handgun.
O’Rourke Tells His Tale
“I just climbed over the fence.” O’Rourke mumbled his story to Carlsbad police detectives in an interview that began at 6:13 p.m. that day. He turned his face to the wall of the interview room.
“I was supposed to take the propane tank in the middle of the field, to the playground area, and start firing away.”
Firing at what?
“The propane tank. With the gun.”
“The one they told me to get. It’s a .357.”
“No, it’s a revolver because they wanted hollow-point bullets. This is a tank that builds enough pressure. The hollow point causes it to explode.”
O’Rourke had legally purchased a Ruger GP100 .357 six-shot revolver more than a year before the shooting. He bought it at Duncan’s Gunworks in San Marcos.
“I was supposed to blow up the school bus, supposed to put it underneath the school bus, the white tank under the school bus. But there was no school bus.”
What was the explosion supposed to do?
“It was supposed to take them out.”
Take out who?
So, did you get that tank onto the field?
“Yeah. I threw it over the fence.”
No, he didn’t. The 15-pound propane tank didn’t get farther than a few feet from his car, which was parked on the street alongside the school, according to witnesses. The propane tank never made it onto the schoolyard, never went over the fence.
O’Rourke told his brother, in an email before the shooting, that he wanted to “commit a horrible act against rich people.” He said he would “go around and slaughter rich people’s families.”
Witnesses saw O’Rourke cross the schoolyard carrying a red, plastic five-liter container of gasoline and a long box of matches in one hand. With the other, he pointed the large revolver at children as he walked among them. It was just a little past noon, lunchtime, and a couple hundred six-, seven-, and eight-year-old children were playing outside.
“And then I was supposed to fire at the tank or supposed to light it on fire. I had trouble with it, so I just went and shot the tank without lighting the flame. Yeah.”
Initially, O’Rourke admitted that he had aimed the gun at children, but as the interview progressed, and in future interviews, he focused more and more on the propane tank as his target. In his last interview with a psychiatrist, he flatly denied trying to kill children.
What did the children do?
“They just watched, and then they screamed and stopped as I was firing at the propane tank.
“They froze, I mean, they just — that’s my expression — they just froze, ’cause they were shocked at the noise.”
How many times did you shoot at the propane tank?
“I don’t know. Probably six times.”
So, did the propane tank explode?
“No. I ran out of bullets.”
“Well, after I ran out of bullets, I hopped the fence. I had to go back and get the matches. It was the big, long kitchen matches.”
No, O’Rourke already had the matches, some in his hand and others in his pockets.
O’Rourke probably noticed the three construction workers about the same time that he spent all six rounds in his revolver. Witnesses said he was dropping live rounds of ammunition while he tried to reload his gun; then, he gave up and ran back toward the fence where his car was parked. The construction workers were in hot pursuit. They caught up with him on the other side of the fence.
The detectives knew that parts of O’Rourke’s story were not accurate. They told him that he never got the propane tank onto the schoolyard and that he had shot at kids. “I was just concentrating on the propane tank,” O’Rourke insisted. He repeated this at least 16 times during the hour-and-a-half interview.
“No, Brendan, you shot a couple of little girls,” one detective told him.
“Are they dead?” O’Rourke wanted to know — this came fast and clear, unlike his mumbling responses to questions. But the detectives wouldn’t tell him. One six-year-old girl and one seven-year-old girl were hit in the arm. Both girls have fully recovered.
Near the end of the interview, the detectives sounded impatient. They weren’t buying O’Rourke’s complicated story about a conspiracy based out of Illinois in which he was tortured and forced to commit what he called a “terrorist attack.” At least 30 times during the interview O’Rourke told the cops he had been “tortured.”
“No, you weren’t,” said one exasperated detective. He leaned forward across the little interview table and told O’Rourke he was lying. “Not lying,” said O’Rourke. The detective made a loud snort. O’Rourke then said that he knew people would think he was crazy. This was another theme that O’Rourke repeated during the interview.
“You’re not crazy, you’re pissed off,” the detective countered. “You’re mad as hell at whatever.”
The police interview was played for the jury during the sanity phase of O’Rourke’s trial, which began the day after he was convicted of 17 felonies, including attempted murder and assault with a firearm. Last month, on March 16, the jury ruled that during the attack O’Rourke was sane.
Sentencing is scheduled for April 20. O’Rourke, now 42, could get more than 100 years.